Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lessons From Launch Queues

Rift Server Status Page, 9:15 PM EST, March 2nd 2011
Trion's Rift Server Status Page allows you to sort by number of players currently in the queue, which makes it easy to identify the game's most overcrowded servers.  At the time of the above screenshot, fifteen US servers had a queue.  The top twelve (the only ones in the triple digits at the time) were all amongst the seventeen servers whose names were announced prior to the beginning of the headstart.  The fact that the initial servers continue to make up such an overwhelming portion of the overpopulated list is potentially concerning. 

Chris has a post up on Rift Watchers comparing the game's queues, and addition of servers, to other game launches.  I was present for the launches of WoW and Warhammer, and can attest to the fact that they did indeed feature queues.  Blizzard, Mythic, and Trion all chose to launch with conservative numbers of servers and plans to expand rapidly if demand called for it.  The jury remains out on Rift, but I maintain that this tactic is a mistake.

The problem is that players who plan to show up in these games with their guilds are going to pick their server from the list that's available the night before launch, not the expanded list that's available after the queues hit.  The players who are able to change their server plans when they see a launch day queue are probably showing up on their own.

This means that the game's most dedicated players are going to end up stuck on a server with queues that may not get any better anytime soon.  Back in 2004, my guild opted to remain on one of the original 40 WoW servers, and we paid for that call many times over with multi-hour queues that persisted on and off for around three years.

Meanwhile, the servers that are added later fill up with players who have no social ties, making them more likely to change servers again or even leave the game outright (as Mythic discovered with Warhammer). Either way, I'd argue that having to double the number of servers after the fact is far more damaging than launching with a few servers too many. 

LOTRO aside
The one launch that seems to have gotten this question right is LOTRO.  The game had eleven servers during its open beta/headstart period, and it did not add or remove a single server until the free to play relaunch in 2010 (which added three new servers to the mix).  I was horrified when Turbine announced that they were not adding any new servers for the official retail launch, but they had gotten very reliable pre-order numbers and were able to make the correct call.

(The way the LOTRO headstart worked was that you could keep your characters from open beta, but ONLY if you pre-ordered by launch day.  By contrast, Trion's open beta was wiped before the headstart, so I'm guessing that players opted to wait for the final servers to arrive before submitting their pre-orders.)

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was going to buy Rift after demo'ing it in one of the betas because I needed another MMO to play. However EQ's new progression server started a couple weeks ago so I was saved the money. At any rate, I'm one of the people who would have picked the server with the highest population to start on, server queues be damned. The way I reason, the more people, the more players, the better. Sure, there's more competition for "quest" mobs and other random trash. But, it is all relative! And many people, IMO, seem to lose sight of that aspect.

lancore said...

I started on the german PvP Server "Felsspitze".
It was pretty new and only live for a few hours when I created the char.
The starting zone was great and you met a lot of players. There were a few Rifts and an event every now and then
But later it just went worse. At the latest when I reached Gloamwood, it became rare to bump into another player. Rifts weren't closed at all, if you tried it you were alone doing it. I haven't seen any Event passed Silverforest and even there we failed and were overrun by Cinderon within minutes due to lack of players...

Yesterday I rerolled on another server, Rhazade. And let me say that, the experiance there is amazing. The areas are full of people at every level range, you don't have any problems at all with finding groups for anything and those events are just impressive.
The server itselfs borders on full at peek times, sometimes it already has a queue. But I gladly take even an 1 hour queue for a way better game experiance.

(which could be a problem with the game btw that it desperately needs to meet a certain break even point with players in the zone to be fun)

Mike ... said...

@Iancore

That's an interesting comment point of view. But I couldn't wait an hour to play. I have about 3 hours per night, maximum. So wasting a third of that time in a queue is not acceptable to me I would play something else.

I play on Aedraxis (US) which was one of the servers introduced during headstart. I've never had a queue and population is usually 'high', sometimes 'medium'.

@Green Armadillo

If that shot concerns you, look at the other end of the scale. Almost all of the servers introduced for the official launch are 'low'. Bringing those servers up was definitely a mistake.

Magson said...

I gotta agree with the idea that people picked servers based on the pre-launch list that was available and thus those servers still have queues.

That said, the queue on Faeblight processes over twice as fast as it did in the 1st week. Then it's be about 3 people per minute, but now it seems to be about 7 people per minute. Last night I logged in as position 360 and it was less than an hour wait. Since I planned ahead and logged in about an hour and a half early..... it was sitting at my character select screen when I got to the pc ready to play.

OTOH, I'm glad there are some lower pop servers too, since I've got friends planning on picking Rift up in the next few weeks and we'll all roll on servers without queues to play together.

Green Armadillo said...

@Magson: Yeah, I've carefully not attempted to extrapolate from queue numbers/length to total numbers of active players. It's possible that there have been technical improvements, that they've been able to raise the cap as players spread out, etc.

@Mike: My guess is that the top 10-12 servers from headstart will remain crowded, the middle servers (i.e. the ones that get modest queues at the peak of the peak) will be medium-high population, and the new servers (which never get queues) will be dangerously underpopulated (a potentially big problem in a game that focuses on non-instanced content).

I'm actually putting my money (well, time) where my mouth is on this front, by remaining on Byriel (which came in right around number 20 on the list a bit after I took the screenshot). I can live with a 30 minute queue in the short term (I write blog posts while I wait) because I think that the population will work out in the long run, but several hours is too much of a wait for me as well.

Magson said...

@GA -- Last night I logged in to a queue of 160 and a wait time of 13 minutes on Faeblight.

I also took a screenie of the riftserverstatus.com site at 8:30 pm EST and only 5 US servers showed low pop vs 15 that did on Tuesday. I'm wondering if people perhaps ordered it on launch day and didn't get it until later in the week perhaps? And I'm thinking this weekend's server numbers will be interesting too since people could have bought and installed it during the week, but don't get to play until the weekend.

Time will tell and all that. . . .

Green Armadillo said...

@Magson: A less optimistic possibility is that they actually had an undocumented "grace period" for the headstart servers, which ended this morning. There might, in principle, be some people who decided to cancel their pre-orders but continued to log in for whatever reason anyway. (Perhaps some people even raced to the level cap and then decided to declare victory over Telara and leave?)

It's also possible that they're tweaking the way in which they label the servers. If I recall, "high" pop servers were labeled in red (same as the full servers) yesterday, and today they're orange. For WoW, Blizzard has said that the low/medium/high labels are all relative (i.e. there will always be "low" and "high" servers, regardless of actual load), so maybe Trion is doing some of the same.